Misguided Sense of Entitlement

Source: onlineindus.com

Source: onlineindus.com

Last few weeks have seen people coming together and protesting against the oppression of the “private school mafia”, or as one newspaper puts it, cartel. While it sounds really good to save the middle class from the rising prices of private education, most of us have started mistaking these private institutions as government subsidized utilities.

Probably it’s not really the fault of a misguided population, which does not like paying any taxes and expects government regulation to subsidize or, worse, enforce a price ceiling. However, this does not take away the notion that the government has no business in regulating the tuition fee rates. Instead of trying to demand a service that they are not able to purchase, people should try sending their children to more affordable private schools. Even better, they are always welcome to try public schools, which are not as terrible as many would like you to believe in major cities.

But then again, we have recognized education as a right in the Article 25-A of the cherished 18th amendment, promising the provision of free education up to high school. I totally support the idea, as cruel the joke maybe on the people of Pakistan. And though it is easy to say that we pay enough taxes to fund that, pretty much everyone would agree that public education would need more funding to work. Even those who consider funding public education an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.

However, who knew that the right to free education now means the government forcing schools to lower their tuition fee? This sort of false sense of entitlement is unhealthy and unreasonable.

The best thing about the private sector is that it offers you such multitude of options. You don’t need to remain confined to any one choice. You could always reject a private school for its pricing, but those whining why a certain educational institute charges this much to admit students have other goals in mind.

You could argue about the greater need of education funding, but that would only mean paying for public schools, unless the government collaborates with NGOs. Apart from the mismanagement and lack of willing workers in remote areas, the public school infrastructure itself is lacking, requiring greater state funding for improved performance.

However, complaints about private schools ripping people off are understandable when so many urban citizens rely on private schools for quality education. Now some troublemakers may cite that as an argument against public education, but this does not mean that the public schools are any less popular among people with lower income groups.

As a matter of fact, tuition fee subsidies for private school student do not sound like a very bad idea under the circumstances. Though more progressive of commentators would like to see a rather regressive transition of the society entirely to the public schools.

But do we need to shove a standard public school system down everyone’s throats?

Again, the notion of establishing such social justice and standardization sounds very good to the ears. But it is like enforcing a system and curriculum of education on millions of unwilling people, and is a violation of personal freedom, freedom of education, and arguably freedom of speech.

What we need are democratic leaders standing up to this sort of nonsense that populist parties have been feeding to the public, especially if the matter come up for debate in the parliament. However, I hardly expect it from any member of the legislature, though I would be pleasantly surprised if someone did.

What we certainly don’t need in the legislature are the sort of recommendations a recent editorial offered, that is, the mandatory requirement for legislators to send their children to public schools in the wake of response to the private educational institute “crisis.” Whether serious or a dark satire in this context, as citizens of a democracy, we need to fight such political ideas of absolutism and utopian mandate in order to preserve individual freedom.

But maybe the legislators should be forced to send their children to school to public schools, because they passed the 18th amendment without giving a second thought to what it actually meant apparently. Especially when the national budget allocated for education does not provide for the colossal task. Probably to them it is just a common recurring election promise for all the parties so that they can win people’s vote for its pursuit.

Nevertheless, demands for regulating or even nationalizing private educational institutes are everything wrong about Pakistani politics today. This is why people need every service subsidized without paying enough taxes to back the spending.

But with political leaders like these, can you blame them?

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Privatization, Authoritarianism and Democracy

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Nothing has aroused my curiosity about the Constitution of Pakistan as much as the plethora of executive decisions issued out of the Prime Minister House and the Federal Cabinet. Is that even democratic?

Whatever the answer, most people do not even bother about that.

There is no surprise that a parliament that unanimously voted to pass the 18th Amendment containing the Article 63 (A) would find excessive executive power the least of its problems. It goes without saying that most Pakistanis are not only happy with that, but many of them have no problems with authoritarianism in general.

There is no shortage of people approving excessive executive power all around the world, even in the United States, since things get done faster this way. Who wants to waste time in stupid voting procedures when the executive can get everything done with the stroke of a pen?

Well, there is a right way of doing the right thing, and then there is the wrong way. Which by the way, is what you think is the right way. It could really be a solution, or not.

This is why a lot of people think that a lot more things get done when dictators rule the country. Well, that is true, but their unchecked progress is also matched by unchecked tyranny and no accountability. This is why such authoritarian measures should have no place in a democracy.

Take privatization for an example. Consider the news report of the approval of the sale of 26% of shares of national airline PIA by the Privatization Commission Board and the relevant Cabinet Committee. Note how it reports that the decision of the Privatization Commission Board would be final. While it seems logical that experts are making the decision, it makes no sense politically.

Even if the Constitution allows for this channel of decision making, it would be largely flawed, in my opinion.

There is hardly any doubt that privatization is the need of the hour for Pakistan. I am all for it. Not only because of the burden of massive losses, but because the government is not supposed to and is unable to run corporations. Simply because these corporations are supposed to be managed like businesses and governments would not do that.

However, it matters how the process of privatization is carried out. It cannot simply be the decision of one man, or the Privatization Commission Board or ministry bureaucrats to convert ownership of the shares of an institution from public to private. The parliament must vote on the motion, in both the lower and upper houses.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution of Pakistan does provide that a Money bill should originate in the lower house, as per Article 71 (I), if I am not wrong. The sale of share of PIA or any other public entity could easily be considered a matter pertaining to money, as it would concern the change in capital, if not revenue, of the state at the federal level.

A lot of people would argue that referring the matter to the parliament would be another way of killing the issue at hand. That voting in the legislature encourages obstructionism. It may be so, but that is the right thing to do.

I am worried that Pakistani federal and provincial legislatures hardly ever vote for important issues, other than electing each other. Which makes me think they are not doing what they are hired to do.

And this, along with many recently introduced constitutional provisions, hint toward increasing trends of authoritarianism among democratic legislators in the country. Though it was never absent, arguably.

Allowing obstructionism is necessary for upholding democratic values.

The Mandate of Your Vote, for “Change”

Source: voteforchange.com

Source: voteforchange.com

It is May 9 and the general elections are hopefully just a couple of days away. May 11 is the date. With Imran Khan falling off a makeshift elevator, forklift or whatever it was, getting severely bruised and injured, and explosions rattling the country from Peshawar to Karachi and several candidates losing their lives, campaigns are still going on. You can only hope that the elections day will pass safely.

More than ever in the 2013 elections, the emphasis is on voting for “change”. While like President Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign, it is a great slogan, (though I am not sure what change he was talking about, perhaps social reforms) I am not really sure if my vote or that of any other Pakistani citizen for that matter, carries that mandate. I mean the mandate for change. However, it does feel good to imagine things, but that is the way it is. Inconvenient, I guess.

The last time I checked, I was only able to elect two officials to two positions in national and provincial legislature. In other words, my vote means that it is my responsibility to use my ballot to determine what kind of people will be using public money for these two positions for the course of next five years. So as it is, and at least to me, the process of the general elections is nothing more than electing and more appropriately hiring two public officials.

This means that all “change” that I am responsible for, or even capable of, is just trying to remotely influence what kind of people make it to the legislature from my constituency. And to that extent, yes, your vote can be a catalyst to change. But that’s all you can do. And that if you are deliberately voting for candidates which would ensure reelection, you are deliberately wasting public money and that you apparently are an idiot of the highest electoral order. But that’s alright.

You don’t have to apologize for your vote.

So while ideology is important, the candidate for the legislature seat is even more so, and especially his or her stance on various political, social and economic issues. To me, this forms a much greater and stronger basis for voting instead of what party they belong to or what ideology they claim to be proponents of.

Considering the prevalent extent of democratic values in the country and the restrictive and suppressive constitution and norms of the land, I can hardly imagine if any ideologies are at work on ground except for those allowed by the state. Still, I would not be cynical enough to suggest that there is no use in voting for ideology, no. Vote by ideology, vote for ideology by all means.

However, in our land of the pure, another high claim of the adherents of a higher than other faiths, ideology is often synonymous with individual leaders. Due to the absence of direct electorate for the positions of the Prime Minister and the President, the people are forced to imagine, like many of their inherent faiths, that the general elections are actually being held to allow them to choose their head of state. What a fallacy.

With the atrocious 14th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan and its criminal ratification in the otherwise celebrated 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, you can hardly call this system of governance democracy anymore. If you ever could, that is. And you are forced to observe that the Parliamentary System is designed to block any change whatsoever lest it suits the vested interest of the politicians.

So the change you are looking for is sort of a far fetched idea. Because apparently your selected legislators would not be able to make their decisions independently. We are at the mercy of organized gangs.

I hope you do get the change you are looking for, I mean I am tired of the more than 12 hours of black outs in Pakistan myself, thanks to the current moronic and almost demonic interim “caretaker” government, with apologies to Lord Satan and his high accomplices.

I just hope I’m wrong.

But to be on the safe side, I am voting for the best possible legislators, party or independent.

Voting By Candidate

Source: thekooza.com

Source: thekooza.com

I have grown up hearing that you should always vote for the party and the ideology. Well, it makes sense too because with more seats, the party would possibly gain a majority and the people who remotely share a fraction of your political world view could become decision makers. But does that mean you should turn a blind eye to the candidates?

But thanks to our parliamentary system, this voting approach has a severe drawback. Particularly for undecided voters and particularly for people who are not voting for ideology. I guess there would be a lot of educated voters in the upcoming 2013 general elections in this regard.

To most people, the general elections for National and Provincial Assembly representatives are a substitute for Presidential or Prime Ministerial elections. They vote for Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari, rather than considering the candidates. Probably it is the same for the rest of the parties too.

I am even told by many that they would vote for a pole if it runs for the party or the leader of their choice. Others would vote for fly-over bridges and construction and development projects, which is a somewhat better approach, But obviously hardly anyone concentrates on their legislative stance and ability.

A lot of people vote for the legislature candidates as if they were voting for a councilor or a mayor, and that is the value they get in the end. But probably it is not their fault. We have a terrible parliamentary system prevalent in this country which only lets people vote for their representatives, but not for their Senators, Governors, Chief Ministers, Presidents or even Prime Ministers.

Furthermore, the 5 year term of a government is ridiculously long. I can hardly think of any better system than the bicameral US Presidential system which has 2 year terms for the representatives, though a long term of 6 years for the senators. But it is an electoral system which allows the US people to elect all of their representatives and even mayors directly. The parliamentary system seems autocratic in comparison.

Now they have even worsened this terrible electoral system in the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution during the last term by introducing and unanimously voting for the Article 63 (A) about disqualificaiton on the grounds of defection. It is an article which requires every member of the legislature to vote according to the party lines or have their membership terminated.

How undemocratic is that. I actually find its passage hard to believe, and our politicians have the audacity of incessantly boasting about it. I can’t imagine a democracy without individual freedom and liberty.

How is this for treason to democratic values? At least it goes to show that there is no respect for individual freedom and individual opinion in Pakistan. Then why worry if the message is reflected at the grassroots?

This clearly goes to show that democracy has “not been able to work” in Pakistan because several provisions in the constitution are not democratic in the first place.

But when voting for a party is thrust upon you as a moral responsibility, you are hardly worried about factors such as these.

But when I look at a candidate, and I imagine whether I would want him or her to represent my constituency or not, I would really find myself responsible for the sake of spending public money the right way to assign the right person to the job. Well at least they must be able to read and understand the constitution, even if that means voting for a candidate who would get a total of 63 votes. I am mentioning that figure for a reason.

Malik Ibrar Campaigning - Source: Official facebook Page

PML (N) Candidate – Malik Ibrar Campaigning – Source: Official facebook Page

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning - Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PPP Candidate Zamurd Khan campaigning – Source: pakistanleaders.com.pk

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning - Source Official facebook Page

PTI Candidate Hina Manzoor Campaigning – Source Official facebook Page

I need to vote in the NA-54 constituency where the major contenders are the incumbent Malik Ibrar Ahmed of PML-N, Zamurd Khan of PPP and Hina Manzoor of PTI, apart from other members from the JI, JUI (F), MQM, ANP and independent ones which are not expected to get much votes, like always. The candidates for the PP-10 Punjab Assembly constituency are much worse and picking the right canddiate would be an easier task there.

While I largely find myself undecided over the current constitutional and electoral mess, I would surely vote and I would try to vote by candidates. I am not saying there is anything wrong to vote by parties. Do so by all means. But I believe that evaluating the candidates is just as important.

While I am disechanted by the last parliament for unanimously voting for the controversial clause about Article 63 (A) in the 18th amendment, by the same rationale, I could just as well vote for just about any candidate not elected to the last parliament term.

But is that really the answer? Because provided our brilliant parliamentary system, any member you vote for would simply vote on party lines, regardless of what they want and how terrible the party stance is. Slavery could never have been abolished in the United States if they had such a constitutional provision. This largely destroys the purpose of voting for choosing the legislator for your constituency, because you are actually choosing no one, as rightly pointed out by some in my family.

I wish I could possibly not vote for gangs, because this is what political parties wearing the most civilized and democratic façade are acting like. And it is such a shame. Sadly, it is behavior like this that extremists and undemocratic forces like the Taliban would like to see, which in the end means that you have no choice but to stick to “lesser evils.”

That is why we need to criticize the autocratic legislation of our political parties loudly and clearly more than ever before if we are to ensure the establishment of true democratic values and principles in this country. But I know I must vote to send out a strong and clear message to those who do not want me and all of you to.

But it’s all really confusing and I would rather like to wait till May 11 to make up my mind.

Till then, I’d rather vote for the person I’d hire.

A Country of 106 Provinces

Original File Source: Wikipedia

This is not a satirical post.

These days, everybody wants their own province in Pakistan. And why not? Everyone wants to have a say. It is perfectly democratic and with the introduction and passage of the 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution, the existing Pakistani provinces are enjoying quite a bit of “control” over things. Nevertheless, a particular provision in that amendment about a rather obnoxious name of a particular province has also triggered a (not much of a) debate over the creation of a new province, joining the longstanding demand of a new province in the Southern Punjab. Even better.

While the legislature of Pakistan is shortly expected to propose recommendations for the creation of new provinces, consensus on the issue, as with most issues in Pakistan, has not been reached. Some people are wondering, and so is my observation,  why people in Pakistan have to think with such an ethnic-centered approach. Let us not consider it a moral question or even a matter of principle, because the rationale for creating new provinces is better administration, the rights of people in certain parts of the country, decentralization and the delegation of authority to smaller administrative units. What does that have to do with ethnic groups?

This actually turns the attention of an observer to a rather harsh reality. Pakistan has been very severely ethnically polarized. Pakistan is actually a state with several belligerent ethnic nations who would do whatever is in their power to tear each other apart. Though thankfully, most of them do not have the means to do so, other than politics. Due to the irregular distribution of power and a highly centralized autocratic government in the country over many decades, these feelings have grown even worse. But getting back to the issue of the new provinces.

The questions to ask are these.

Will Pakistan find more reasons to be divided with the new provinces or will that prove useful to the unity of the state?

Will creating new provinces cut down costs?

The answer to the first question is important but no one really knows it. The second question can only be answered with an emphatic no. With additional governors, chief ministers, cabinets and God knows what, costs are only bound to rise with the current unreformed parliamentary system, which can be a great blow to the state with its economy on a lifeline and with a deficit in budget and declining current account balance and growth rate.

However, I have a very good solution to both the problems of conflict between different ethnic groups in the country and to the increasing costs without sacrificing decentralization and the delegation of power to smaller administrative units, away from an autocratic center. Each district of Pakistan should be declared a province, or call it a district if you will. What this apparently insane idea means is that the districts should be delegated their own budget with their own governors and the privileges of these officials should be no greater than that of the mayor of a city or whosoever is considered the head of the local legislature.

A Country of 106 Provinces.

It is an unorthodox idea, particularly to those who blindly believe in Westminster Parliamentary System of the Commonwealth of Nations, but don’t tell me that it is not workable.

If taking such measures is unnecessary for the prevalence of goodwill in the country and for reducing ethnic polarization, then so are the provisions taken in the constitutional amendments in the recent years that promote decentralization.

The Bottom Line About the HEC

Well, the bottom line about the HEC is this.

An institution is never a problem in itself, the people who run it could be. So you get those people replaced and make them manage it in a better way.

You don’t dissolve the SECP, for instance, just because for some reason, the people who run it are not doing their jobs properly up to the required standards. The HEC is a regulatory and control authority of the education, just like the SECP is for business. If the SECP is not following better standards, the only way to go about it is making corrective measures instead of its dissolution.

But making that argument does not mean that I support the anti-devolution policies of some political parties in Pakistan. Of course, every province has the right not only to control, although how much they would coordinate with each other, given the level of national unity in Pakistan right now, is another matter. As we see with a number of other provincial subjects.

Of course, devolution should be promoted. But how is devolution not possible under the auspices of the HEC, I fail to understand. You could always restructure it. Even simple business organizations are restructured every now and then. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the HEC is an institution of the Government of Pakistan. It is a part of the government of the President and the Prime Minister, who could take actions in that direction.

While the federal control is wrong in theory as far as advocacy for provincial decentralization is concerned, I think it can be considered that it will bring order and discipline to the education system in the country, could provide arbitration in case of disputes over fund allocation from the federal government in liaison with the provincial governments, apart from provincial budgeting, and uniformity in the educational standards across the country, if that is what we are aiming for, hardly though.

You just cannot shut down an organization just because it is neglecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. Of course, it would not be a part of the HEC charter that Sindh and Balochistan should be deprived. This shows that there is something wrong with the people running the HEC in that regard, who may be deliberately resorting to such policy, and that could happen with any other institute, which has to deal with the provinces on a federal level.

The argument here should be whether we can make the devolution possible within the structure of the HEC without abolishing it, how to minimize its practices that deprive some provinces as far as education is concerned and how to decentralize the control into provincial subsidiaries of the organization.

However, it is nevertheless the right of the people of every province to control their own matters pertaining to education, so if the recent changes offer a good alternative with this solution, well no one should really be upset, unless of course things start to turn out wrong and educational institutes start to suffer. Though, some people are of the opinion that the dissolution of the HEC was not really necessary for that.

The argument of HEC preferring quantity over the quality of the Ph. D. degrees is yet another example of how an organization is being managed instead of something being fundamentally wrong with the purpose of an organization. Well, you tell the chairman of the HEC to improve its standards to really achieve the standards it really boasts about, instead of shutting it down for it.

You do not shut down an organization because it is not working properly right away. You make corrective measures. So while I do agree that UGC could do everything that the HEC could, and it was rather unnecessary to form the HEC in the first place in a way, I think it still makes no sense to convert the HEC back to either the UGC or the provincial educational ministries or respective structures. I mean, why all the shuffling?

But that is not just the point.  Everything about the HEC episode has been political point scoring right from its creation to dissolution, apparently, with due respect to the constitutional amendments.

The truth is that this organization was created for political point scoring as well, as obviously the case with the dissolution, in which case I could be wrong, because the HEC has added value to the way education has been delivered in Pakistan, whether through foreign aid or not. But the point is, if something is working better than your average Pakistani institute, why shut it down?

Remember the “elected mayor (Nazim) or the district commissioner from the beauracracy” debate, and the subsequent decisions? Yes, that happened during the term of the current democratic government as well. Whatever happened to devolution at that time? But the Nazim over the Commissionerate System had one thing in common with the HEC; it was introduced during the term of the military dictator President Pervez Musharraf. So obviously, terminal problems with it.

And if my argument does not make any sense, then I would gladly recommend the federal government to suspend all similar other organizations on the federal level, which pertain to provincial subjects in the constitution, to create their respective provincial equivalents, so that we could devolve in a much better way. I am sure a lot of institutions are neglecting Sindh and Balochistan in a lot of other things too.

Why touch education only, especially when you do not even bother about it in any way otherwise and only spend no more than 2% of your GDP on it? And I have heard all the respected educational experts ranting frantically on the local TV that even that much is not spent fully or properly. According to a lot of them, funds are not as much an issue as the intent is. And I have heard the defense budget is recommended to be raised by an insane 18% this year, especially when you are broke as a country.

And Senator Raza Rabbani, who is doing an excellent job legislating by the way, is way too smart not to know all that. But I am happy about his clarifications and assurances in his latest press conference, and let us hope things will move in a better direction.

The issue with the people blindly supporting the decision of dissolution is that they do not want to see the matter the other way, since the decision about it has been taken by the party. Not that the supporters of other political parties are any better, especially the parties who signed the 18th Amendment without considering the possibility of the dissolution of the HEC and are complaining now, which speaks volumes about their incompetence.

But it is just not about creating hurdles to the provincial autonomy. Nothing too wrong with dissolving the HEC, and actually we should welcome the change if it is really positive, being optimists, but only if you have solid reasons for it.

However, if you are against the dissolution of the HEC, here is the other side of the picture by Marvi Sirmed, which is the best argument that I can find as yet, which clarifies that the problem lies in the federal control of the institution. Although I am still not convinced by the article how an organization like the HEC is all-evil.

Of course, the HEC is not the Schutzstaffel.